Press on Environment and Wildlife
Genetically engineered plants suck up mercury from the ground (July Week 2 (2005)) Across the continent in California, researchers are using transgenic Indian mustard plants to soak up dangerously high mercury and selenium deposits caused by irrigation of the nation's breadbasket. Still others are engineering trees to retain more carbon and thus combat global warming. The gene jockeys conducting these exotic experiments envision a future in which plants can be used as an inexpensive, safer and more effective way of disposing of pollution. ”Trees are really made for this, we just have to trick them to do what we want them to do,'' said Richard Meagher from University of Georgia. Mr. Meagher uses genes from E. coli that enable the common bacterium to live amid mercury. He has spliced them into a variety of plants in the laboratory, where he says his results are dramatically positive. Mr. Meagher's team has planted about 45 engineered cottonwood trees in a polluted lot. The trees are expected to treat the mercury as a nutrient and draw the toxic element for the soil with their roots. Some of the mercury is expected to vaporize into the air while most is stored in the tree. After several years of growth, the trees will be cut down and incinerated. However, it seems that the team has overlooked the fact that upon incineration the mercury still stays in the atmosphere – it’s just a choice between ingesting mercury and breathing it – I wonder which is the lesser of the two evils?
Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) (Issue of the week, July Week 1 (2005))

This article appeared in the June 30 issue of the Hindu Business Line, and some arguments presented before the court by the Cochin Port Trust (which I have highlighted in purple and I leave it up to the readers to read within and between these lines) go to show how very environmentally unfriendly is the mind-set of people who are involved in the major trade and commerce sectors of the country. Following is the article:

The Cochin Port Trust has submitted before the Kerala High Court that the reclamation of land for setting up chemical tanks in the port area has been carried out under the guidelines of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, for which it had obtained necessary permission from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The port authorities, in the counter affidavit, said it had not violated the law in reclaiming land at Vathuruthy area earmarked to set up chemical storage tanks. The allegation in the writ petition that the port had reclaimed 15 acres of land under the guise of reclaiming backwaters without obtaining permission under CRZ notification is not correct. It is submitted that the storage of petroleum products is a permitted activity under CRZ notification and the area falling under the Willingdon Island is not ecologically sensitive and in the Coastal Zone Management of Kerala. The port had filed the counter affidavit in the wake of a writ petition filed by the Willingdon Island Residents' Association seeking to demolish the tanks already constructed in the reclaimed area. The port authorities pointed out that it is not for the first time that permission has been granted to construct tanks in the reclaimed area. It had earlier given permission to companies such as Indian Oil Corporation to set up tanks for storage purpose. It is also brought to the notice of the court that hazardous liquid cargo is being handled in many of the ports such as Kandla, New Mangalore and JNPT. The major objective of the port is to create facilities for import and export of different cargo and for the reception and handling of seagoing vessels. The port is bound to facilitate its users to develop port-related infrastructure and the facilities so created should be used to augment the volume of trade. According to port officials, the entire Willingdon Island where the port is functioning is reclaimed area and the erection of tanks or construction of any building has not affected any of the reclaimed area of the port. The port has been reclaiming area and leasing the same for various port related activities and, therefore, there is nothing wrong in reclaiming land and giving it to tank farms and other port users. It also pointed out in the affidavit that Kochi has grown considerably in commercial activities and the port also should keep pace to meet the situation by providing adequate facilities within the port area. Therefore, it should be necessary to strike a balance between the utilities provided and the human safety conditions. In many cases, the society has to tolerate existence of certain utility services. "If the intention of the petitioner is to seek demolition of tank farms, it will only ruin the progress of the port and the State. Maybe there are certain risks involved in all these operations and our only submission is that the society has to live with such risks, which of course, will be minimized by adequate safety measures and controls," the port said.

Pollution detecting sensors (July Week 1 (2005))

The West Bengal pollution control board (PCB) is contemplating using sensors to automatically detect the emission levels of various pollutants in industries and penalize the polluting ones. These sensors in industrial units would be connected online to a monitoring system at the PCB office which would be alerted on emission levels if it crossed the stipulated levels. PCB rued that no big industry except ITC had adopted an environment policy for energy conservation in West Bengal while the number of such units in Maharashtra was 118, those in Andhra Pradesh 110 and Karnataka 58. ON a positive note however, West Bengal has become more environmentally aware in the recent past as around 200 units are currently under closure here due to violation of pollution control norms while 280 coal-fired industries have converted to cleaner technologies in the last three years.

NITT to the rescue of Taj Mahal (July Week 1 (2005))

The National Institute of Technology, Tiruchi, (NITT) has developed an energy efficient furnace that could prevent environmental pollution during the baking process of glass bangle manufacturing. The model run on furnace oil / liquefied petroleum gas is ideal for en masse adoption by the hundreds of small scale glass industries in Firozabad, around 40 km from Agra, in order to conform to the Supreme Court guidelines on the prevention of the emission of toxins that was evolved to safeguard the Taj Mahal. The use of 5 kg of fuel oil by the `NITT furnace' in the place of 5.2 kg of coal and 20.8 kg of wood by the existing muffle furnace results in the saving of Rs.80 an hour in each of the nearly 1,000 such units in Firozabad. The atmosphere is saved from the hourly addition of 65.5 kg of carbon dioxide and 7 kg of carbon monoxide through each unit. The production rate, with each unit having an output capacity of 1.4 lakh bangles a day, would remain the same. The model, which costs Rs.25,000, has raised hopes that the imminent closure of the manufacturing units owing to non-adherence to pollution norms could be staved off and the annual turnover of Rs.6,000 crores from the industry retained.

Indians snatch the spotlight at the Ashden Awards (July Week 1 (2005))

Three Indians have won the 2005 Ashden Awards, considered the 'Green Oscar', for their outstanding and innovative projects at a ceremony held in London. Hyderabad-based Dharmappa Barki, Chairman and Managing Director of Noble Energy Solar Technologies Ltd (NEST) won the 'Ashden Light Award' and cash prize of Rs 24 lakhs for the solar lanterns he developed for India's poor. Bangalore-based Harish Hande received the 'Enterprise Award' and an equal cash amount for his village level solar home systems. Chandigarh-based Ramesh Kumar Nibhoria of Nishant Bio-energy Consultancy, inventor of school cook-stoves running on crop waste, was declared joint winner of the 'Climate Care Award' along with Stuart Conway of Honduras, developer of a fuel-efficient cook-stove. Both of them shared a cash prize of Rs 24 lakhs. After receiving the award, an elated Barki told the press that he would use the award money for creating a widespread awareness of the solar energy system in India.

Notorious poacher arrested (July Week 1 (2005)) Sansar Chand, the most notorious wildlife smuggler, who was on the run ever since his role in the poaching of Sariska tigers was exposed, has been arrested. True to his wont, Sansar Chand was hiding in a house in Patel Nagar area for the past 10 months. A Crime Branch team of Delhi, which was trailing him, arrested him. Also known as the Veerapan of North India, Sansar Chand is involved in 13 cases registered under various sections of the Wildlife Act in five states. The Special Task Force (STF) set up by the Prime Minister to investigate the disappearance of tigers from the Sariska Tiger Reserve, was also on his trail. He has been arrested under section 41 of the CrPc and is being interrogated about his involvement in the poaching cases
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